So Much More Than Just the God of Wine – An Interview with MARK O. STACK & HELEN ROBINSON

COMIC BOOK YETI: Mark and Helen, thank you so much for joining me here in the Yeti Cave. This is going to be part of the interview series for crowdfunding creators that I’m calling CRYPTID-BITS. 10 (or so) questions about you and your project, and you are here to talk about MADNESS; or, the Modern Dionysus, on Crowdfundr now through July 22nd.


MADNESS, Robinson/Stack/Troutman/Epstein

MADNESS; or, the Modern Dionysus is about Zig, who “finds himself called into being by members of a modern cult who have returned a cadaver to life in the hopes that the spirit manifesting within it will be the next coming of their patron deity, Dionysus.”


There is so much in this story about transformation, physical, spiritual, emotional. Why did you choose to use the myth of Dionysus to tell this story or did the idea to use Dionysus come first and this story grew out of it?


MARK O. STACK: The myth came first for me on this one. Dionysus was a figure that always stuck with me as a kid when first reading about classical mythology because his protracted origin (born of gods, torn to shreds, carried by a mortal woman, and eventually carried by Zeus) was tough to square with being the “god of wine.” More reading over at least a decade expanded my idea of the god from being merely the god of wine to an awareness of how that related to madness or ecstasy in a ritual sense. Of course, none of that implies a story. The story only really sprang to mind when talking with my wife about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I suggested that if Doctor Frankenstein is the titular “modern Prometheus” then I thought the monster ought to be considered the “modern Dionysus” on account of his birth from reconstituted parts. From there, I had what I thought was a good title and an inkling of relating that classic work of horror with a somewhat obscure history of Dionysian mystery cults.


CBY: Helen, your artwork is so expressive, it fits this story well, but what I really want to comment on and hear about are the colors in this book. They are extraordinary. Did you have an overarching theme for the colors? What were the images and ideas you wanted to capture or enforce?

MADNESS, Robinson/Stack/Troutman/Epstein

HELEN ROBINSON: Thank you so much. I rarely go into colouring anything with a detailed plan. I start with a very messy pass through the pages, trying to attach possible colour schemes to the emotional beats of the story. Like colour keys in animation. The starting point was Mark’s description of Zig wearing a purple jacket; it worked with my own associations of Dionysus and became the connective colour for the whole comic. Shades of green gradually crept in, firstly as a sign of the character’s rebirth, but became a kind of guide for Zig, leading him to the story’s destination. Everything else just sort of evolved from there. The character of Rachel, for example, came together visually early on: she’s warm and autumnal, but with just a hint of winter. I try to have fun while colouring, and not get too bogged down with realism.


CBY: What’s your comic creator origin stories, meaning when did you first get into comics and what was it that made you want to create comics?


MADNESS, Robinson/Stack/Troutman/Epstein

MOS: I was always a superhero kid watching cartoons like Spider-Man and X-Men on Saturday mornings, but 2002 was a big activation point for actually reading comic books themselves because the Sam Raimi Spider-Man led to a lot of press about the comics (I remember a certain TV special about the history of the medium that I must have watched 10 times) and a wave of publications being made available in my elementary school book fairs. I got pretty into Ultimate Spider-Man at the age of 8 or 9 as a result and never stopped reading comics. I knew I wanted to write comics for the first time when I was probably 10 or 11 because I had a trade paperback of Batman: Year One or Daredevil: Born Again that included pages from Frank Miller’s scripts. Once I knew a format for how to write comics, I knew that was something I was going to do because there isn’t a medium in the world more intimate, absorbing, and easily shared as the comic book.


HR: I grew up with two older brothers, so cartoons and comics were a big part of my childhood and have remained a passion ever since. I never lost interest in them, but didn’t draw any of my own until I was studying animation at university and comics came up as an optional module. And then I couldn’t stop.


CBY: Is there a comic (single issue, trade, or OGN) that made you feel the way you hope readers of MADNESS will feel after reading it?


MADNESS, Robinson/Stack/Troutman/Epstein

MOS: The final panel of Madman Adventures #3 by Michael Allred with colors by Laura Allred. It’s not hard to see some parallels between Madness and Madman (as well as the work of a major Allred collaborator, Peter Milligan in the Vertigo relaunch of Shade, the Changing Man); Madman is more zany with a pop art sensibility, but that panel is the final button on a narrative about the title character searching for aliens and his own belief in God at the same time. The character narrates: “I now fully realize how fragile all creation is and should always be cherished. I’m wide awake in my dreams.” It’s a gentle ending for a gentle character in a world that is usually anything but, and it’s stuck with me ever since I read it.


HR: For me, nothing beats opening up books like Coda (Simon Spurrier, Mattias Bergara) and Heart of Gold (Viv Tanner, Eli Baum). They’re so vibrant and the art conveys so much emotion. I always get pulled into comics like that and hope readers feel the same about Madness.


CBY: In addition to the two of you, the remaining creative is Jodie Troutman lettering and research and edits by Rae Epstein. How did everyone come together to work on this project and what would the two of you say the other’s biggest strength was as a collaborator?


MADNESS, Robinson/Stack/Troutman/Epstein

MOS: I’m married to Rae, and she is very interested in Hellenistic religions so it was pretty natural to ask her to lend a serious hand in researching Orphism and doing edits with me to help make sure that material was being well-represented. And I’ve worked with Jodie a ton on the releases from my imprint, Weekend Warrior Comics, so she was the first and only name on my list for lettering this. Helen was someone recommended to me by my friend Megan Purdy, founder of Women Write About Comics, after they had contributed to a zine they had organized. That zine, Called into Being, was inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, so this was not an especially long walk to make! Helen’s portfolio was great, showing a lot of comfort with different genres connected by an open-faced emotionality. Helen’s pages bleed with humanity, and I knew that was what this book was going to need if it had any hope of being any good.


HR: Mark has this brilliant way of writing quiet moments between characters. Just a few lines can convey so much about what they are going through, without needing to give an elaborate telling of their backstory. But he’s also great at giving freedom with the big moments. There's times as an artist you want to go a little crazy with an idea and see how it plays out. Mark was always open to that which I really appreciated.


CBY: There’s a particular song that features in the comic. It’s a song that I have heard so many times and never really thought that much about it, and if I did it was in a less than positive light and I honestly will never hear it the same way again, it’s such a beautiful scene in the comic. I was stunned with how it’s used both in the scripting and the artwork. Why was that song a touchstone for this story and, Helen, was it particularly challenging having to draw those panels?


MADNESS, Robinson/Stack/Troutman/Epstein

MOS: In film, scenes are often edited in their earliest stages to temporary pieces of music (usually a bit of score from another movie or maybe a pop song) and then replaced as post-production finishes up. Sometimes, though, filmmakers end up paying for the rights to use one of those tracks because they’ve built the rhythms of the scene around it and now nothing else would work half as well. That’s what happened here. I fully intended to write original lyrics after the final artwork was finished, but I had to admit defeat. There wasn’t a way I could do better than those songwriters juxtaposing a cheerful, infectious tune with a canny exploration of growing up in defiance of but still in the shape of a previous generation’s troubles.


HR: Mark graciously gave me a lot of freedom with this scene. And given it didn’t really come together as more than an idea until the inks, a lot of faith too. It was definitely the section that took the longest to illustrate as I tried to work all these different visual influences into one mad, euphoric, fantastical sequence. While challenging (there was a lot of staring at the pages questioning if it would work), it was a lot of fun and I listened to the song in question way too many times.


CBY: MADNESS was inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, classic Vertigo, and historic cults devoted to Dionysus. What is it about class Vertigo comics that you wanted to capture, was it the aesthetic, theme, or something else?


MOS: Early Vertigo, even before the imprint had a proper name, felt like the books under its banner were taking place off, over to the left of what was going on in DC Comics. Those were the books that had the freedom to change the pace of storytelling, get really specific with character, and bring in both more mysticism and more of the real world at the same time. And these were books that were asking a lot of questions about human nature and individual identity (something continued under DC’s Young Animal, another inspiration, as the initial wave of those titles explored alienation from the body). I’m not actually big on The Sandman as a reader, but it was hard not to think of that first five years of Vertigo when I realized I was getting at a lot of similar ideas.


CBY: Which comic creators working today inspire, influence, and push you to keep creating?


MOS: I've been really big on Jillian Tamaki ever since I read Sexcoven. The Fuck Off Squad stories by Nicole Goux and Dave Baker are a huge storytelling inspiration for me due to the freedom with which they explore moments more than events. And Shadia Amin, Emily Pearson, Kaylee Rowena, Keezy Young, and Sebastián Píriz are artists whose work I spend a lot of time looking at lately as I start to break some new stories.

MOS: "The story only really sprang to mind when talking with my wife about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I suggested that if Doctor Frankenstein is the titular “modern Prometheus” then I thought the monster ought to be considered the “modern Dionysus” on account of his birth from reconstituted parts."

HR: While working on Madness I started reading We Only Find Them When They’re Dead (Al Ewing, Simone Di Meo) and was blown away by how gorgeous it is. Mattias Bergara is another artist whose work I could look at all day and I can’t get enough of Jadzia Axelrod and Jess Taylor’s recent book Galaxy: The Prettiest Star. It has so much heart and so many of its beautiful pages had me feeling very emotional.


CBY: What are the comics, books, tv shows, and movies that you are currently enjoying?


MOS: My guy, I’ve been neck deep in Captain Marvel comics for the last couple weeks and just losing my mind at what C.C. Beck and Kurt Schaffenberger would serve up in their pages. As for books, I’ve been going through The Romance of Tristan again and picking through wrestler Jon Moxley’s memoir.


HR: I’m currently reading Dan Simmons’ Hyperion and catching up on some comic adaptations in the form of Ms Marvel and The Umbrella Academy. Also recently picked up a nice omnibus of Doctor Aphra comics and am enjoying working my way through that very heavy book.


CBY: I really enjoyed all the Doctor Aphra comics! Tell me about any upcoming projects or friends’ projects that CBY readers should check out.


MOS: I will take this opportunity to say that Christopher Sebela and Claire Roe’s Foulbrood is fantastic and crowdfunding its next two issues during the month of July. It’s folks doing bee-related crimes in the scumbum-infested Central Valley of California.


CBY: I backed the earlier Kickstarter for issues 1 & 2 and they did not disappoint. More bee crimes please! Where can you be found online?


MOS: My imprint has a website and shop over at weekendwarriorcomics.com and I spend too much time on Twitter as @MarkOStack.


HR: I can be found on Twitter and Instagram @gofishblues and my website is gofishblues.com


CBY: Thank you so much, Mark and Helen, and good luck with the rest of the campaign!




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